Thursday, January 21, 2010

mzungu (aka "white person" in swahili)

To all those who are wondering whether we in fact fell off the face of the earth, we did not! It being about a week since we left the good old USA, I figured it was about time I wrote a little something. Now inhabiting the outskirts of the small town of Kikopey, near Gilgil, we have been at the Ebmezer IDP camp for about 5 days. Ben and I are staying with Theresia, an older woman who lives on her own, but has a revolving circus of relatives and children constantly coming to help her out (something is wrong with her foot... I think she broke it a while back and it is now pretty severely infected...thus why she has the house help). Her house is 5 steps from the IDP camp, so getting to work in the morning is super easy! She has been feeding us so much food that I think I will probably come back home 20 lbs heavier than when I left. After spending the last couple of months whittling my stomach down to miniscule proportions (thinking that we would not be eating that much), both Ben and I have been forcing down three huge plates a day of delicious food. Potatoes with beans and corn, chapatis with lentil and goat stew, pancakes and eggs in the morning...seriously, FAR more food than I can afford when living on my own. And the "ugali" that guidebooks say is the nastiest Kenyan staple food? Not bad. Actually, quite delicious. Think corn flour made to a mashed potato consistency. Everything is turning out to be very good, except of course, the condition of the IDP camp. We are starting our term of 6 weeks with another volunteer, Robin, who has worked in an international volunteer organization in San Francisco for the past couple of years.

When we arrived on Sunday, we got the tour. We would be working with Samuel and John (everyone has English names and Kenyan names, English are easier), who are the Camp Chairman and Secretary, respectively. Samuel gave us the low down and we hung out with some of the kids, and returned the next morning to start "work". Monday and Tuesday were spent brainstorming. The facts: There is very little water. There is little food. There is no source of income for the camp residents. There are no other organizations working in the camp. In fact, all other organizations pulled out about a year and a half ago, when the crisis wasn't a "crisis" anymore. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the residents of the camp that we have run into (and will surely prove to be a continual challenge throughout our stay) is their unwillingness to work as a group. The Kikuyus (the most populous tribe in Kenya, and the residents of the camp) are known to be stubbornly individualistic, almost to a fault.

After hearing all of these things, it was hard to know where to start. Obviously, water is critical. When the 240 families at Ebmezer relocated from a more massive camp at Lake Naivasha 1 year ago, they moved to the current location hoping they could start anew. They purchased their own piece of land, hoping to farm little by little and get back on their feet. However, the camp sits on a hill. The hill is about a mile from a lake. Unfortunately, it is a salt lake. The sodium deposits in this area have robbed the soil of almost all nutrients and rendered most water sources nearby unusable. The closest water source for the residents is 7km away during the dry season (which happens to be right now), and most of the residents are single mothers who lost their husbands in the violence...making it hard leave the home to retrieve water. During the wet season it is better, but no one has any means of water collection. There are 4 unused tanks right now, because no one has come up with a way to capture the rainwater (it is hard to put a gutters on a tent).

Right now we are working on brainstorming ways to collect water more efficiently during the rainy season, for cheap or free. I'm actually looking that up on the internet right now! In the meantime, we have two other projects underway, things that were started that no one ever cared to finish (see what I mean about the unwillingness?), and LOADS of ideas for other things. Most of the unwillingness probably has to do with the fact that when you are hungry, or when you are thirsty, you can't think about anything else. Even if that something else is going to help you in the long run. Samuel (camp chairman) is a very inspirational man, but to a fault. I'm pretty sure he makes false promises to these residents (like all politicians). But, the good thing about him is this: he wants people to come together in the camp, even if it is the last thing they want to do. Because he knows it will help them. Which is what we all believe too! So while here, we are the enforcers of group work and group participation in any and all projects that we start. Because in reality, this camp is theirs. They cannot rely on outside donors or funding ANY MORE. They seem to rely on it right now, even though it is little and far between. We want to make them more sustainable, because that is what will help them grow as a community and as individuals.

The two projects we are beginning with are 1) a greenhouse for 1,000 tomato plants (some supplies and plants donated by someone... sometime and never finished), and 2) a functioning chicken coup (they have one right now, but it is overcrowded, dirty, and there are like 5 roosters. I mean come on, this is not going to work). The past two days have been spent constructing the greenhouse, slowly but surely, with most of the help provided by the male residents (when given a task, men will do something!). Unforunately, the ladies sat around and barked orders yesterday, and didn't even show up today. You'd think, with 1,000 people living there, more than 10 people would show up (especially when you don't have a job...), but no. We need to work on this. The chicken coup project, led by Ben's passion for farming chickens (he is SO EXCITED to be using farm knowledge. seriously.), will start when this project is over, hopefully next week. We also have ideas for many other things, but I won't bore you. I'll try to write more this weekend. It's hot. It's dirty. But we petted a cheetah and Africa is proving to be awesome.


Kurt said...

Britta- see if its possible to assemble a "team" of people who's sole function is to retrieve water and get it to the camp. if it has to be some mothers-see if "daycare" can be arranged. Water seems to be the most important thing. How can tomatoes be grown if there is no water and how can people exist without it? Team work is a viable concept. Good luck and God bless you,

cheryl said...

britta, thanks for the update. If ever one had met a challenge, believe you and Ben have found it. Don't get discouraged, you never know when you may leave behind a spark. Besides, Ben loves chickens and loves to build... thinking of you all. Be Safe. Love Cheryl/MOM